Former Polish president and Nobel Peace Laureate Lech Walesa is pictured at his office on June 20 in Gdansk, Poland.

Story highlights

Lech Walesa led Poland out of the Cold War Soviet bloc

He served as the country's president and is a Nobel laureate

Walesa suggests that gay members of parliament should sit in the back or "behind a wall"

Despite furious criticism in Poland, he is refusing to apologize.

Warsaw, Poland CNN  — 

Lech Walesa, the man who led Poland to freedom in its Cold War struggle with the Soviet Bloc, is refusing to apologize for suggesting gay Polish politicians should “sit behind a wall” in the country’s parliament.

The former Polish president and Nobel Peace Prize winner provoked uproar in Poland when he told a television reporter Friday night that as a minority, gays have no right to a prominent position in politics, and should sit perhaps at the rear of parliament of or even “behind a wall.”

He said that gays have little significance as a minority, and therefore have to “adjust to smaller things.”

A devout Catholic and father of eight children, Walesa now says he has nothing to apologize for despite a mountain of criticism heaped upon a man who was once venerated as a champion of Polish liberty. He stressed he did not “feel homophobic.”

“I will not apologize to anyone,” the former president said in an interview Monday. “All I said (was) that minorities, which I respect, should not have the right to impose their views on the majority. I think most of Poland is behind me.”

Since his comments went nationwide, Walesa has been on the receiving end of furious criticism.

“Why does Lech want me to sit in the back row?” asked Robert Biedron, a member of parliament from the opposition Palikot Movement and Poland’s first openly gay politician. “If we accept the rules proposed by Lech Walesa then where would blacks sit? They are also a minority. And what about the disabled?”

Others have called for called for Walesa to return his Nobel prize, while the Committee for the Defense Against Sects and Violence filed a formal complaint with prosecutors in Walesa’s hometown of Gdansk, accusing him of promoting a “propaganda of hate against a sexual minority.”

Along with damaging his reputation, the controversy could also have a painful effect on Walesa’s career.

Long retired from domestic politics, he now earns his money from the international lecture circuit, talking about democracy and the fight against communism. But with his comments on gays making headlines around the world, the Polish press has speculated that invitations to speak may soon dry up.

Walesa, the shipyard worker who went on to inspire the Solidarity trade union in Poland, was awarded the Nobel Peace Price in 1983. He helped form the first non-communist government in the Soviet bloc in 1989 and was later elected president of Poland.